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How Big is Microsoft's Silverlight Shoe?

On April 15, Microsoft announced the release of Silverlight, which formerly was called Windows Presentation Foundation/E. Based on technology developed for Windows Vista, Silverlight is a streaming media delivery module, a piece of code that plugs into a browser, that Microsoft hopes will open the floodgates for media rich applications. Also, it's an Adobe (Macromedia) Flash killer.
Microsoft let one Cinderella shoe drop (calling it ever so evocatively Silverlight), what's the next shoe going to be? A marriage of Silverlight and Atlas (aka ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX Extensions)? Perhaps not a marriage just yet, but a kind of pre-nup involving the .NET library capability…

Let me translate the blog-speak: On April 15, Microsoft announced the release of Silverlight, which formerly was called Windows Presentation Foundation/E (WPF/E). Based on technology developed for Windows Vista (the graphics portion formerly called Avalon), Silverlight is a streaming media delivery module, a piece of code that plugs into a browser, that Microsoft hopes will open the floodgates for media rich applications. Also, it's an Adobe (Macromedia) Flash killer.The other shoe to drop? It may come with links to Microsoft's effort to harness the AJAX momentum, which for the time being is somewhat awkwardly embodied in the ASP.NET 2.0 AJAX Extensions. This too is aimed at creating rich web applications, but focuses more specifically on the mechanics of the user interface. The links will probably happen around elements of the .NET code libraries that will allow interactive manipulation of Silverlight elements.

Like who should care? Software development shops that use Microsoft tools care, of course. Others? Well, let's say that these two products are stand-ins for what seems to be a persistent split in web development: I'll call them 'streamers' and 'interactors.' The streamers love streaming media, naturally, and generally believe that as the web evolves streaming media like IPTV or movies on demand will be the Really Big Thing. Interactors, very much associated with the concepts of Web 2.0, are convinced that user participation, social interaction, and lots of proactive GUI are the future of the web.

That Microsoft would have two such products with very different development streams reflects internal reality, the WPF folks were on the case long before Ajax, and the Ajax folks were always around but didn't know it until Microsoft got Ajax marketing religion. So Silverlight is an integral part of Microsoft's long range vision. Ajax, not so much. It remains to be seen how much Microsoft thinks these two approaches belong in the same box (or in compatible libraries).

That's going to be important for a lot of developers, I think, because ultimately the split between streamers and interactors is unnatural. The goal is RIA, rich internet applications, and of course streaming media and interactive GUIs have roles. Adobe knows this, as its upcoming Apollo run-time technology indicates. Moves by Microsoft in combining streamers and interactors will 'seal the deal.' Then shops of all stripes will have to wait and see who delivers the good stuff-the likes of Adobe, Microsoft, Eclipse, or some unheralded wundervendor.

Nelson King has been a software developer for more than twenty-five years. Further complications include being a computer-industry analyst, product reviewer and author (of nine books on database programming). He's been writing for Intelligent Enterprise (and its precursors) for more than ten years. Write him at [email protected]On April 15, Microsoft announced the release of Silverlight, which formerly was called Windows Presentation Foundation/E. Based on technology developed for Windows Vista, Silverlight is a streaming media delivery module, a piece of code that plugs into a browser, that Microsoft hopes will open the floodgates for media rich applications. Also, it's an Adobe (Macromedia) Flash killer.